Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas tributes galore!

Goodness; this year's roster of seasonal tribute performances of Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas grew and grew and grew, after the initial November 15 post.
By droll coincidence, three of the groups have released their efforts on CDs or downloadable singles this year, starting with the New England-based Eric Byrd Trio. Byrd, a veteran jazz pianist, has performed professionally for more than three decades, and has shared a stage with Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Randy Brecker, Warren Wolf, Charlie Byrd and numerous other jazz luminaries. He and his longtime trio — acoustic bassist Bhagwan Khalsa, and drummer/percussionist Alphonso Young Jr. — got into the Guaraldi holiday gig quite early; their first cover album came out back in 2009.

That was a studio production; their new release — Charlie Brown Live — was recorded last December 18 and 19 at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, Maryland. The seven-track compilation is a solid, mainstream jazz affair, with the familiar melodies peppered with plenty of aggressive improv solos. Happily, audience applause and ambient noise never intrude (as often is the case with live recordings).
Byrd opens the album with Guaraldi’s signature solo keyboard introduction to “O Tannenbaum”; the arrangement slides into gentle mid-tempo jazz as the sidemen join the fun. Byrd’s forceful keyboard solo is followed by a contemplative bass solo and a few tasty drum solos, before the trio slides back into the melody; it’s a nice showcase for all three players.
“Linus and Lucy” boasts sassy keyboard work on the first bridge, and a truly wild ride up and down the keyboard during the second; Khalsa’s walking bass comping is equally solid. Noodly solo piano eventually slides into a bold reading of “What Child Is This,” which trades off between the familiar melody and heavy chord improv and hard-hitting drum work. “My Little Drum” opens with a lengthy quote from the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter,” after which Byrd slides into an upper-octave arrangement of the melody; he pauses for Khalsa’s tasty bass solo, which yields to (of course!) some powerful drum work.
The album closer, “Christmas Is Coming,” is a lot of fun; it opens with a heavy beat, sashays into a swing-time bridge and then a raucous piano solo and equally tasty improv on bass and drums. The tune concludes with some playoff music, as Byrd introduces his band mates: a playful finale to a brief but impressively dynamic set. Both this and the 2009 album are available via his website.